How far would you go for a slice of pizza?
Eighteen miles across pot-holed country roads in a taxi to a small fishing village perched on the edge of the Irish Sea?
That’s where I found myself last Saturday night, clinging to my seatbelt, en route to La Pizzeria in Clogherhead, Co Louth.
Clogherhead’s more renowned for fishing that flatbread. It’s also the home of Captain RedMan, a headless sea captain’s ghost who reputedly spends his time wandering the area.
If it’s primo Italian cuisine he’s after the RedMan’s in luck – a chef named Jian Carlo has set up there. A local legend on foot of his erstwhile trattoria of the same name in nearby Drogheda (and, er, ‘direct’ customer manner) Jian Carlo opened his new operation in Clogherhead a few months back.
His previous oven produced some of the best pizza I’ve had in Ireland. Eighteen months had passed since we last had a slice there, so my wife and I undertook a pizza pilgrimage last weekend.
My frutti di mare – with added anchovies – was very good. Thin, dry crust, less rather than more mozzarella, just enough tuna.
It wasn’t as I remembered it, though. But that may have had nothing to do with the dish itself.
Thinking about it afterwards it occurred to me that memory – the context of place, time, company, weather – influences my palate as much as my tastebuds themselves.
A madeleine-dipping Frenchman realised this long before I did, of course.
Swapping French biscuits for Italian flatbreads I asked myself: what were my most memorable slices?
Here’s my top five, in no order and with taste just one of the ingredients:
– La Pizzeria (the original): the punch is the base and the crust, which could be eaten with just a slather of sauce. Thankfully Jian Carlos added that tuna, prawns and those anchovies (if you asked). For two years we couldn’t visit Drogheda without eating it.
– Pizza Stop: a go-to staple in my single days this alleyway bistro boasted a seafood pizza with the saltiest anchovies (detect a trend here?) of any I’ve had in Dublin. Calamari a go-go too.
– Steps of Rome: back in my 20s this Chatham Street joint sold €2 slices to go, which often fortified my buddies and I on trips from Neary’s to gigs in Whelan’s. I can still taste the crumbly base – I suspect semolina.
– Ristorante Verginiello: Capri’s overpriced and blinged up. This pizza was neither – I can still taste the mussel juice mixed with the melting cheese. The fact that we tasted it on our honeymoon made it even better. Jackie O, you missed out.
– Artichoke Basille’s: on a 2010 work trip to NYC I hit their original East 14th Street outlet. Eschewing meat I opted for a crab slice. Perfect seafood, incredible mozzarella, this was the best pizza I’d ever had. The following day I wrapped up my morning run by breakfasting on another couple of slices. Next time I’m in town it’s a taxi direct from JFK to 14th Street.